February is the month of a modern dance festival in The Hague, called Cadance. On Tuesday 8 Feb I caught a performance called 'Beyond' at Korzo Theater (bringing to life memories of late night practices at the SMU CCA room, eating speculoos amongst skinny dancers, trying to somersault backwards on tables and keeping a peripheral lookout in my identically-titled swan song in Feb 2010) with choreography by Pedro Goucha Gomes and Kalpana Raghuraman.
The first piece, 'Toxic Tears', choreographed by Goucha Gomez and interpreted by Raghuraman, revolved around the Ganges river in India and how it is a source of physical pollution but at the same time, a source of spiritual ablution. Tens of used green plastic bottles were strung like a curtain at the back of the stage and scattered around the stage, forming a sacred circle for Raghuraman to dance in.
As she was trained in Bharatanatyam by her mother, Raghuraman carries out two rituals at the beginning and at the end of her dance are reminiscent of the Hindu worship rituals done before a temple Bharatanatyam dance. Small plastic cups caress her arms, which start to move rapidly like the tails of ducks and swallows all around her torso and head. Her hands moved so fast that at a moment it appeared as if an infestation of insects surrounded her head.
She breaks through the plastic curtain noisily, and her feet move horse-like in regular rhythm to the galloping beats in the music - a noisy mixture of techno and percussion. Her Graham-like movements rise and fall like waves crashing on sand. I recognise several classical movements like Krishna shooting from his bow, and the faces of demons. Unlike many modern or contemporary dancers who show only a few emotions on their faces, at one point Raghuraman shuffles in an 8-pattern with the smallest of movements of her feet, but I can see love, seduction, horror, anger, and jealousy alternate in her face.
In the second piece, 'Kiss of Life', choreographed by Raghuraman and interpreted by Sabina Perry, the two dancers try to find a compromise between a 'traditional' Indian woman and a contemporary one. There are four shallow clay pots filled with incense marking the four corners of the stage (which sparked some coughing fits in the audience), and they were not used as anything more than markers throughout the piece.
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Perry wears a toga-like dress and the braids in her hair and the leather boots she puts on later during the piece give altogether a misplaced impression of a Greek gladiator. In a rectangular spotlight which starts the piece, Perry shakes rather controllably (I felt she could have let go more), perhaps to symbolise the rupture from the image of a pious traditional Indian woman? She moves much more gracefully in between balletic and Bharanatyam positions, and is able to impressively form and switch complex hand positions.
I suppose an attempt to depart from classical dance while trying to hold on to some of its vestiges was the reason behind the appropriation of gestures from Perry's own life, like drinking tea, shooting a gun, and disco-dancing. However, it was a shame that such a dichotomy was made between the two women - the contemporary woman brazenly splayed her legs at the audience and licked lasciviously - as it reinforced stereotypes of women as either virgins or whores. Maybe it's the heeled boots, or maybe Perry feels like a tourist in someone else's cultural landscape, as she did not look wholly comfortable dancing in some moments.